In the long and troubled history of the Middle East, conflict, specifically religious conflict, has unfortunately been all too prevalent. From the most expansive and deadly example of religious war in the region, the Crusades, to the heinous acts of ISIS, conflict spurred by religious radicalization continues to this day.
In recent weeks, diplomatic relations between two of the largest and most influential powers in the Middle East have deteriorated to a near disastrous state. Saudi Arabia and Iran represent the two largest countries in the region both in landmass and military prowess. Their combined influence spreads not only throughout the region, but ripples throughout the Muslim world ideologically and affects nearly every country on earth economically.[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=”16″]There is no basis in any western religion for religious warfare. The rhetoric being spewed by a handful of radical clerics in the Middle East and abroad has tarnished the name of Islam and religion everywhere.[/pullquote]
These two countries have always had a rocky relationship, in the early 1980’s Saudi Arabia backed then-U.S. ally Saddam Hussein in Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war after the Iranian hostage crisis. In 1987 several hundred Iranians staged protests on the annual Hajj pilgrimage in Mecca Saudi Arabia which resulted in bloodshed and the temporary severing of diplomatic relations.
In 2015, over 450 Iranian pilgrims to Mecca were killed following a bridge collapse, prompting Iran to swiftly lay the blame on Saudi Arabian incompetence and neglect. Saudi Arabia and Iran have most recently found themselves on opposing sides of several proxy wars in the region in a sort of modern day cold war, including the civil wars in both Syria and Yemen. In Yemen, Iran-backed rebels frequently fire artillery and rockets into Saudi Arabia in a rare example of direct physical conflict between the two nations. However it is the most recent set of circumstances which have prompted renewed fears of a larger, regional conflict in the Middle East.
Within Islam there are two major denominations, Sunni and Shiite or Shia. Sunnis represent the vast majority of Muslims at about 80%, and Saudi Arabia has a large Sunni majority. Iran on the other hand is nearly entirely Shiite, and this religious difference is the root cause of their conflict. Sunnis and Shiites have an extremely bloody past in the region, and claim members of the other denomination are apostates. As a result, when Saudi Arabia executed a Shiite holy man in early January for leading Arab Spring inspired protests against the Sunni government in the country, Iran became outraged. Iranian citizens attacked and burned the Saudi Embassy in Tehran, harsh words were exchanged, and in the end Saudi Arabia severed all diplomatic relations with Iran.
The ripple effect was immediate and severe. Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, and Sudan all downgraded or eliminated diplomatic ties with Iran in solidarity with Saudi Arabia. The cause of this recent conflict is so strikingly due to radical religious motivation that it is sparking a new wave of fears of a broad Sunni vs. Shia war in the region. This sectarian conflict is already being played out in the streets of Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Bahrain, and Lebanon in battles between rival religious militias. The world can only watch and hope that it doesn’t broaden into a direct war between Iran and Saudi Arabia, and grow into a regional conflict between ideologies.
This warmongering between nations and ideologies brings me to my point: There is no basis in any western religion for religious warfare. The rhetoric being spewed by a handful of radical clerics in the Middle East and abroad has tarnished the name of Islam and religion everywhere.
As men and women of God in the Malvern community, we must remember that God preaches peace and love, no matter what religion you are. Religion ought to never be a justification for war, but only to make peace. When it comes to the Middle East, we can only hope and pray that those who seek destruction find justice, and that peace prevails.